Obituary: Dr Donald Blane Grant CBE, Army veteran

Dr Donald Blane Grant CBE
Dr Donald Blane Grant CBE
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BORN: 8 October, 1921, in Broughty Ferry. Died: 21 September, 2014 in London, aged 92

When Donald Grant retired as the father of Dundee University Court, it was said to be impossible to over-egg his contribution to the institution.

Much the same could be said about his wide range of other roles, from army major under General Montgomery at El 
Alamein to shaping the predecessor of accounting firm KPMG, chair of both Tayside Health and the Scottish Legal Aid Boards, not to mention his part in returning the ship The Discovery to her home port on the Tay. Multi-faceted barely begins to sum up the man.

At the core of his professional success was both a mathematical mind and a deep affection for the city of Dundee.

One of four children of Euphemia and Quintin Grant, who became manager of the Royal Bank of Scotland’s Dundee head office, he was 16 years younger than his eldest brother and consequently was doted on by his parents.

At Dundee High School he excelled on the sports field, showing a particular aptitude for rugby and tennis, and in the classroom where, aged 16, his mastery of Higher maths won him the top prize.

His numeracy skills would former the cornerstone of his career as a chartered accountant, as he rose through the ranks from 17-year-old apprentice at Dundee firm Moody Stuart and Robertson, to senior partner at KMG Thomson McLintock, which eventually became KPMG.

His working life had hardly got off the ground when Britain declared war on Germany in September 1939 and he joined the Highland Division of the Royal Artillery. Just as he would do in business, he rose through the ranks and was swiftly promoted to major, one of the youngest majors in his regiment.

In 1942 he fought under the command of the legendary British general, later field marshal, Bernard Montgomery, at El Alamein in the Western Desert campaign, a victory that turned the tide of the war.

Grant’s war service was exemplary and many decades after his demob in 1946 he would recall, to his wide-eyed grandchildren, the electrifying speech Monty delivered to his troops on the eve of that decisive battle. The general declared: “The bad times are over – they’re finished! Our mandate from the Prime Minister is to destroy the Axis forces in North Africa. It can be done and it will be done!” he said, pledging: “We’re going to finish with this chap Rommel once and for all!” By November that year they were successful – Hitler ordered Rommel to withdraw.

Grant, who was subsequently a member of the Territorial Army, qualified as a chartered accountant in 1948 and was a partner in the Dundee accountancy firm and its successor for 36 years. He was also a director of several companies and served as president of the Institute of Chartered Accounts of Scotland in 1979-80. He chaired Tayside Health Board for seven years from 1984 to 1991 and was proud to play host to Diana, Princess of Wales, when she visited Dundee’s Roxburghe House hospice in 1986. He also chaired the Scottish Legal Aid Board from 1986 to 1991 and in 1989 his wealth of public service was recognised when he was awarded the CBE, the same year he was conferred an honorary degree of LLD by the University of Dundee.

He was one of the longest-serving members of the University Court of Dundee, involved from 1992, acting as assessor to the university chancellor Sir James Black from 1993 and sitting on many committees, including the finance committee of which he was convenor, and on the board of the university’s spin-out company AMCET Ltd.

Grant, who was known as “the father of the University Court” due to his extensive and distinguished contribution, continued to serve the governing body until 2002. He also worked relentlessly for many local charities, trusts and appeals, including the Sir James Caird Travelling Scholarships Trust, with which he was associated for half a century, as a trustee and then chairman.

A passionate Scotsman and loyal Dundonian he, along with many of his former schoolfriends, was of a generation that played a major role in redefining the city. In particular, as a director of Dundee Industrial Heritage Ltd, he was one of those who secured the return of the Royal Research Ship Discovery.

The Dundee-built vessel took explorers Scott and Shackleton on the groundbreaking British National Antarctic Expedition at the turn of the last century but by 1979 she was in a badly dilapidated state. Thanks to funding from The Maritime Trust and a new home offered by Dundee Heritage Trust, she was restored and returned home to Tayside. Today, more than 100 years after leaving Dundee, she is the centrepiece of the Discovery Point Visitor Centre.

In his own leisure time Grant enjoyed getting out into the natural beauty of Scotland’s countryside and was a keen shot. He also loved fishing, on the South Esk, and golfing, at Panmure Golf Club where he could be found every Saturday morning. He was also a member of Blairgowrie Golf Club and the Royal and Ancient in St Andrews.

He had been married to his wife Lavinia, known to many as Ruth, for almost 70 years until her death in July last year. They met in Aberdeen as teenagers and were married there in 1944, returning to Broughty Ferry after the war where they lived for the majority of their married life.

Very much the patriarch, many family holidays were spent together at the house in Majorca he designed and built for his late wife and three daughters, Jillian, Susan and Philippa, who survive him along with 12 grandchildren and ten great-grandchildren.

A service of thanksgiving for his life will be held at St Stephen’s and West Church, Broughty Ferry, at 11am on 10 October, to which all are welcome.